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The value of a curriculum review

The value of a curriculum review

Sarah Hagar, Director of English at Archbishop Sentamu Academy talks about preparation for an imminent Ofsted inspection and the value of engaging in a curriculum review.

Sarah says: “As we all know, this academic year has posed unique and unexpected challenges that none of us were prepared for. The unpredictability of student and staff isolations, lock-downs, remote teaching and putting together TAG folders for our KS4 and KS5 students have meant that we’ve all learned to expect the unexpected. But there is one very predictable challenge that has loomed large on the horizon for us here at Archbishop Sentamu Academy, and that is the challenge of an imminent Ofsted inspection. Under the new framework, with its sharpened focus on curriculum intent, implementation and impact, I wanted to ensure that our English curriculum was primed and ready to give our students the best deal possible. We have always reviewed our curriculum every year in English, but the impact of Covid and the new Ofsted approach meant that this was needed more than ever. Our context here at Archie only emphasises this need. Our ward is 0.1% of the most deprived areas in the UK and 46% of our students are in receipt of free school meals. 

To help us to make the most of our curriculum, I enlisted the help and expertise of our Trust School Improvement Partner for English, Chloe Dolphin. Here at Archie, we are still relatively new to the idea of being part of a Trust, but for me it meant that we could draw on a wider range of ideas and experience than ever before. Working with Chloe has allowed me to make links with partner schools, chat to other subject leaders and see how curriculum plans work outside of my school context. In short, working with Chloe has proven the old adage that we’re all much stronger when we work together.

Chloe and I drew up plans for a full curriculum review of our new KS3 and KS4 curriculum (with a KS5 review pending in September for our sixth form subjects). Before Chloe’s review, we sent a questionnaire to the English team to ask for their honest opinions of the revisited curriculum plans. The results of the questionnaire were really valuable and have shaped many of the changes we are currently making for September.
The next step of the review involved Chloe looking at our Long and Mid Term plans before meeting with us as an English management team. Just as we would at a formal Ofsted inspection (but without the cold sweat and sense of impending doom), we were asked by Chloe to articulate our curriculum plans: What was our intent? How was this being implemented across each key stage/unit and how could we prove that this was having an impact? This in itself made us consider the curriculum in a brand-new light. If we couldn’t justify a decision (such as the number of texts we studied for author study) then it would need to be refined and changed. My colleague Lizzie commented that creating a curriculum is rather like creating a rich tapestry, and this is where our idea of curriculum ‘threads’ came into play. For example, our Year 7 curriculum is now written chronologically, taking our students through Greek myths, moving onto Norse mythology and then progressing into English legends. Looking at Chaucer in Year 7 prepares students for the thread of literary heritage that runs throughout our curriculum and eventually builds the foundation for their Shakespearian study into Key Stage 4 and beyond. 
Following our initial meetings, Chloe drew up an action plan for each area of our curriculum and this was followed by a meeting with Helen Dowds to revisit and prioritise each area. The review threw up a myriad of questions: Had we clearly emphasised links to KS2? Were staff able to articulate links to KS5? Could we be more consistent in our approaches to specific exam questions? Our strengths were also highlighted in Chloe’s feedback, helping us to see (with a pair of external eyes) the successful areas we could build upon.
The real value of the curriculum review has been its ability to remind us that our role as English teachers is far more complex than it appears to be. Our goal has always been not just to teach a text but to use that text to inspire individuals who are morally, spiritually and intellectually enriched with open minds and a mature world view. As Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr states: “a mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions”. Our students should leave our lessons with a better understanding of the world around them and of the essence of human nature. Can we ever capture this essence completely in our curriculum plan? Well, not entirely. But the curriculum review has served to underline these values as the essence that should shape everything we ask our staff to do.
So, amongst the many uncertainties we have dealt with in the last year, when Ofsted do arrive (and they will!) we can be certain that our curriculum will be strengthened and ready. Another certainty? The cold sweat of that Ofsted call will never really get any easier…”

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